Writer Gerry Duggan and artist David Baldeon arm the slave trader Skaarn with weapons from the Keep and set him upon Nova and Beta Ray Bill in the pages of “Nova” #16, which bears the subtitle of “Battle Skaarns.” Duggan opens the issue up with a little humor right in the face of potential catastrophe and highlights the developing relationship between Bill and the current Nova, Sam Alexander.
Marvel is well-known for cranking out characters that are flawed individuals with broken-down luck and strong moral fiber, which is the essence of Sam Alexander. However, in reading “Nova” #16, I realized that, to me, this title is the spiritual successor to Christopher Priest’s work on “The Ray” — even when Sam gets something right, he’s wrong. It hasn’t worn thin, yet, but it is in danger of doing so after sixteen issues of teenage blunder. His mistakes have haunted him, but in this issue, Duggan tries to wrap all of that up and bury it, just as Sam makes amends with the legacy of Nova.
Heavy on the purple and lavender, the colors from Sotocolor hold down the vast star-filled space backgrounds nicely, propelling the main characters — Beta Ray Bill and Nova — forward throughout the issue. David Baldeon’s art is uneven throughout “Nova” #16, however, as the figures are subjected to some strange anatomical decisions. Towards the end of the issue, the primaries — Bill and Sam — are afflicted with elongated torsos and condensed legs. On first pass, I thought it was just on Beta Ray Bill, which wouldn’t be so jarring despite the oddity of executing such a decision this late into the story and that severe to a recognizable character, but it hits everyone, most notably Sam and Bill, to the point where it borders on distraction despite Baldeon’s whimsical style. Perhaps the penciler was just weary by issue’s end, because Cosmo doesn’t look very doglike, wavering somewhere between dog, bear and camel. In previous appearances, from other artists, Cosmo trends towards a retriever, but here that retrieverness melts away.
“Nova” #16 wraps things up on Nova’s first real space team-up adventure under Duggan’s writing, but leaves readers hanging once Sam returns to Carefree, Arizona. After having moderate success in space and earning a modicum of respect from Beta Ray Bill, Nova returns home to find that it is nowhere near the same home he left behind — classic Marvel flaws in action. Duggan and Baldeon provided a fun romp through space, but it’s about time Earth’s human rocket spent a little time on Earth, with his feet on the ground, dealing with things that need attending to.